It appears from what Mitch McConnell said at the opening of his speech to the Koch brothers’ secret conference in June, that he found the collection of philosophical speeches reported today by Lauren Windsor in The Huffington Post to be “inspiring.” I think for most Americans, the word would be appalling.
Now we know not only what the politicians said to the assembled millionaires and billionaires at the retreat, we know the philosophy behind the political activities of the Koch brothers and their various organizations. And the beliefs they espouse are even worse than I had ever imagined they would ever say out loud, even in secret. This is far worse than Romney’s infamous 47 percent video, because their views not only about government, but about the political debate in America are so lacking in fundamental decency.
Lauren, whose journalism is officially sponsored by a group I chair, American Family Voices, reported last week on the speeches by U.S. Senate candidates to the wealthy donors at the Koch conference. Those speeches caused quite a stir. But the speeches from Charles Koch, longtime Koch consigliere Richard Fink, and two academics with long and deep ties to the Kochs and right-wing movements are in some ways even more dramatic. They demonstrate without a shadow of doubt the way the Kochs and the people close to them, including politicians, view the world, and it is an ugly, dystopian place. It is a world of Ayn Rand-style paranoid fantasies, where the good guys are swash-buckling wealthy industrialists and the bad guys are the collectivists (both Rand’s and Charles Koch’s favorite term for liberals) who want to help the parasitic poor and sick and old.
Before I go further, I want to go back to McConnell and the other politicians at the conference. I think it is very likely that the candidates who spoke at the conference would have stayed with all the billionaire funders to hang out the whole time — if I were a politician and there were 400 millionaire and billionaire political donors closely aligned with me, I sure would have. And there is evidence that many of them did in fact stay longer than the duration of their speeches. In their remarks, some of the candidates reference other speakers at the conference, namely Charles Murray, the author of The Bell Curve. Tom Cotton is on the agenda for the round of golf the first day of the event, and then for speaking two days later. And McConnell, on the day all of these crazy ideological speeches were given, starts his remarks clearly implying he was there for the whole day: “It’s been a long but very inspiring day.”
If I’m a reporter covering these races, here’s what I would want to know from these candidates: Do they agree that Democrats are just like Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Lenin, North Korea, and suicide bombers? Do they agree that government should be limited to the police and military? Do they think liberals want people to be unemployed and hopeless so that they can be recruited to fascism? Were they present when those remarks were made, and if so, why didn’t they object or raise questions? And I’d want to know that of all the other Republican candidates being supported so heavily by the Koch brothers.
The fact is, the things said on these tapes are far more blunt than Romney in his 47 percent moment. This is crazy stuff, folks, and the politicians who were partying with these extremists ought to be held to account.
I couldn’t believe it when Charles Koch — who paid at least $870,000 to buy out one of the most luxurious hotels in the country, so conference attendees wouldn’t have to fear talking to anyone else on the grounds, who was surrounded by a phalanx of security, who was hosting some of the most powerful Republicans in the country — spoke about the great courage he and his brother have because of the “firing squad.” It reminds me a lot of the Rand groupies with their “Where’s John Galt?” buttons. (Maybe if this whole trying to buy the politicians thing doesn’t work out for them, the Kochs will take to blowing up factories the way Galt did.) When Koch decries government supporting corporate cronyism and subsidies, it is another exercise in fantasy: The oil industry, which the Koch fortune is built on, “is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process,” according to the New York Times.
The most explosive part of these speeches is that they pretty much flat-out say that modern American progressives — by which they seem to mean everyone to the left of John McCain — are the equivalent of Hitler, Mao, Lenin, Stalin, the North Korean government, and suicide bombers. You think I’m exaggerating, but they actually conflate the Democratic Party with totalitarian regimes. They believe that liberals want people to become unemployed, lose their faith and families, and become dependent on government, so that it will be easier to recruit them for a new fascist state. Again, if you think I am kidding, read the transcripts. This is what they really believe.
The outrageous nature of these statements may obscure the more deeply troubling part of what they truly believe. Their “freedom” agenda consists of the most extreme form of economic libertarianism imaginable, and that they now essentially have bought the Republican Party as a wholly owned subsidiary is frightening for our future. In his presentation to the group, Dr. Will Ruger, the vice president of research and policy of Charles Koch Institute, described their theory of government:
Government is thus limited to a small, but absolutely critical number of tasks, basically keeping our neighborhoods and cities safe from crime, defending our country from those who might violate our national territories, our commerce at sea, and providing justice in a fair and apolitical — political court system.
That means no Social Security, no Medicare or Medicaid, no public support of any kind for the severely disabled, no public prenatal care or assistance for hungry or homeless children, no minimum wage or regulation of safe working conditions, no child labor laws, no emergency assistance in the case of natural disaster, no food or water or drug or consumer safety protections, no oversight of financial markets or banks, no environmental laws of any kind, no public roads or bridges or schools. It is the wild, wild West, where whoever has the fastest gun or the most money can make all the rules and the devil take the hindmost. Or, as Ruger quotes from a conservative thinker, “Unless men are free to be vicious, they cannot be virtuous.” And in their uber-libertarian world, there will no doubt be plenty of viciousness.
Fink’s speech was the ultimate ode to this kind of extreme libertarianism. What does he think when he sees the homeless? “Get off your ass, and work hard like we did.” (Apparently not seeing the irony of his patrons the Kochs getting their money and company from their father’s inheritance.) What does he think about people on minimum wage? “People are being paid more than their value-added.”
But it wasn’t all political theory. Fink laid out a political strategy of appealing to the middle third of Americans who are neither “freedom-loving” nor “collectivists.” The key, he said, is convincing those swing voters that conservatives have good intent, through focusing on meaning and well-being more than economics in their messaging. He then offered the Koch brothers’ support of the United Negro College Fund as an example of this strategy.
The highlight of Fink’s speech, indeed of all these philosophical speeches, was that as he was continuing to talk about good intent, he said:
Yeah, we want decrease regulations. Why? It’s because we can make more profit, okay? Yeah, cut government spending so we don’t have to pay so much taxes (inaudible). There’s truth in that, you all know, because we’re in the 30 percent of the freedom fighters. But the middle part of the group doesn’t see it that way.
So, yeah, there’s the “freedom fighters” for you, fighting for the freedom to profit.
Fink’s speech lays out the dilemma of the Koch political philosophy pretty well. They want fewer government taxes, regulations, and labor laws so that they can make more profits. That is the end-all and be-all of how they define freedom. But the problem is that swing voters don’t see it the same way, so the Kochs have to convince them of their good intentions. It is a hard problem to solve when the Kochs want to get rid of everything in government that helps people outside of police and the military.
There is so much more here — Fink talking about how he studied climate change for six years and was never able to figure it out, Victor Hanson quoting Tocqueville and Aristotle on the downsides of equality and democracy. The hits just kept coming, so it is well worth checking out these transcripts yourself. They will blow your mind with how far to the right these billionaires and their friends go. But the voters in states like Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, and Kentucky ought to especially read them, and ask the politicians who are such good friends of the Kochs if they, too, believe all this crazy stuff.